Fetishes, Fetishes, Fetishes

Posted on June 01, 2015 by Odell Borg

The creation of a flute design can be relatively complex. The priority is to create the optimum voice and then work on an appealing design and the tonal structure of the flute. Of course there are limitations to what can aesthetically be woven into the body of a flute. The fetish provides a dominant sculptural opportunity to be the foundation of the overall design.

When contemplating a new design I draw inspiration from my daily experiences in Nature. The seasonal changes of our plant life and the abundant wildlife provide many design theme ideas. From there it is fun to incorporate elements that have a relationship to the original subject. For instance, a wolf design I am working on now has the associated imagery of paw prints and a wolf howling at the moon.

In my early flute crafting days, the flute body was my main focus and the fetish was secondary. I quickly learned that the fetish block is the key to creating the optimum voice. The ongoing experimentation with the wind channel, the thickness and width of the air passage gaping and how to minimize the breaths air turbulence, gave me a great deal of respect for the fetish making process. The creation of an optimally functioning fetish takes almost as much time as making the body of the flute.

The main culprit of moisture buildup in the air passage of a fetish is condensation coming from the breath of the player. It is a continual challenge for flute crafters. Wood is an ideal material for creating fetishes, with its organic beauty and flexibility. But it also has challenges. Humidity and excessive moisture are easily absorbed by wood fiber, potentially causing warping and swelling. This is particularly challenging with the function of flute fetishes. Because of the breath moisture buildup the base of the fetish can warp and negatively effect the needed airtight seal. If the base of the fetish swells it can narrow the gap of the wind channel. The gapping is measured in thousands of an inch (anywhere from .025 to .045). If the fetish gap is changed by a couple thousands of an inch due to swelling, it may alter the tuning and in some cases completely diminish the voice of the instrument.

Every flute crafter I have spoken with sees moisture buildup as a challenge. The good news is, there are many talented flute makers out there and each of us is continually striving to come up with solutions. We have made it an ongoing priority to continually test new methods to moisture proof the fetishes and all flute parts that are affected by condensation. Integrating moisture-absorbing materials such as hydrophilic plastic (moisture absorbing plastic) and sand stone into the body of the flute as well as the fetish did work but I found that they compromised the quality of the voice, which we could not justify.

Surface coatings such as varathanes and lacquers worked initially but also proved ineffective after a short time due to deterioration. Our final solution was to develop our own moisture barrier formula. We use non-toxic solutions that minimize the effect of moisture buildup and do not compromise the tonal quality of the instrument. To date this has been effective and dramatically reduces the problem, however we are continually searching for better and more effective processes in our flute-making journey.